Information for hikers in Southern Africa
Where hikers can interact and help each other, as a community.



Blisters are caused by friction - constant repeated abrasion eventually wears out an area of skin on the foot, resulting in an uncomfortable blister.

Blisters are mainly caused by ill-fitting boots, boots that have not yet been properly broken in, or uneven areas within the boots - even crumpled socks.

Blisters usually heal within a week, whether they burst or not. A severe blister, affecting more than the outer layer of skin, will also heal but may leave a scar.

As soon as you feel discomfort, cover the affected area with an adhesive tape such as 'Elastoplast'.

Do not burst a blister deliberately unless the taut skin is causing acute discomfort.

One method of treating painful blisters that has been used by David van der Merwe for more than 40 years, is to take a sterilised needle threaded with a short piece of white cotton that has been soaked in Gentian Violet.

Pierce the blister by pushing the needle right through from one side of the blister to the other, close to the skin.

The fluid will drain out of the blister via the cotton in the two holes and the Gentian Violet will lessen the chances of infection.

Broken blisters must be kept clean to prevent infection.

Usually, by the next day, the pain has subsided enough to continue with the hike.

If a blister bursts by itself, expose it to the air as much as possible in hygienic conditions, but keep it covered by a bandage to prevent dirt getting into the wound.

How To Avoid Blisters

Blisters are everyday injuries, but can generally be avoided by taking a few simple precautions.

For country walks or hikes, wear comfortable (broken in) boots or shoes, with two pairs of socks to reduce friction on the feet.

These should be a thin cotton pair next to the skin, with a thicker pair of woollen oversocks. (The thick socks will also provide some cushioning.)

Pull the socks right up and ensure that the socks do not have creases or crumpled areas, as these could eventually cause blisters.

Only buy shoes that fit well, and break them in with short periods of wear at home, before venturing on a hike with them. Never go hiking in brand new boots that you have never worn before.

When buying, feel inside the boots with your fingers to check for any uneven areas or badly finished off joins, with little loose flaps of material that will end up chafing your feet and causing blisters.

Reputable dealers should assist you with buying exactly the right size (which will generally be larger than normal shoes.)

Remember, you will be wearing two pairs of socks and your feet will swell after a few kilometres. Preferably try on the boots with the pairs of socks you will wear when hiking, (ideally - but not essentially - after plenty of mall cruising beforehand, to help get your feet a bit swollen and tender.)

If the boots already feel uncomfortable in the shop, you can imagine how your feet will feel after 20 Kms of rock hopping. However, leather boots in particular do need to be broken in to get molded to the shape of your feet, before they will be really comfortable.

While boots should not be overly tight (especially with unswollen feet) in the shop, avoid very loose fitting boots. If your feet slide around inside the boots you are sure to end up with blisters.

Part of the secret of avoiding blisters is to try to keep your feet as dry as possible, (besides reducing friction, the two pairs of socks allow sweat to partially drain off into the wollen socks.) So, if you are going to be hiking through streams or in rain, you will generally benefit from "waterproof" (or at least water-resistant) boots. Once the insides of your boots become waterlogged, your chances of developing blisters is far higher.

Obviously, tougher feet will have less problems with blisters than soft, tender feet. So, wearing sandals or going barefoot occasionaly (instead of always wearing closed shoes with socks) could help toughen the feet a bit and reduce the chance of blisters.

See the article "Avoiding blisters ".

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